Gauteng, South Africa has been experiencing a water crisis for over two weeks, signaling the failing democracy of the country. The Johannesburg water company has the responsibility of supplying water to the suburbs, and has indicated that the current water shortage is the worst experienced in over 110 years.
Rand Water is the company that remains responsible for purifying the water and selling it to the Johannesburg Council. According to Rand Water, the problem is the connection between water and electricity and the vast amount of copper cables recently stolen. Reservoirs are steadily filling up but remain a problem due to the hot weather conditions.
Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, the wealthiest one and the main contributor to the economy of the region. It is also the largest city not situated near the coastline or a river or lake. The city’s water supply originates from the Vaal River system and it is pumped from a distance of 43 miles to the water treatment plants.
The population of Johannesburg is currently estimated at 4.4 million compared to 3.6 million in 2001. UNdata stated that in 1996, there were only approximately 800,000 inhabitants living in the city. The enormous increase of inhabitants compared to the almost zero increase of upgraded or new infrastructure did not balance with the the populace swell. Reports indicate that South Africa had a population of 32 million in 1994, and this increased to 52 million in 2014. The additional population growth far outweighed the necessary development demands.
South Africa has experienced a large number of service delivery protests in the past few years as angry residents demand basic services such as electricity and water. Electricity demands are higher and planned or proposed building of power stations has not advanced sufficiently to justify the population expansion.
The current water crisis has affected residential homes where residents have to queue for water from emergency services trying to deliver the necessary life-sustaining liquid. Some schools have been adversely affected, and pupils have experienced bladder infections due to the health and safety issue of not having access to water. Many parents have chosen not to send their children to school during the water shortage.
The main reason for the water crisis, as stated by the Committee chairperson Mlungisi Johnson, is the persistent theft of copper, the maintenance of facilities and implementation of a new water plan. Johnson said there was an urgency to protect the electrical power supply to water pumping stations and this would be considered.
The current disturbance caused by the water crisis could, potentially, lead to conflict as societies in South Africa become angered by not having the necessary water service. The resultant protests could, then, ignite the anger of an even larger portion of the populace.
A report published in April this year stated that South Africa had experienced a total of 48 service delivery protests in the first few months of the year. There is, already, an upward trend in protests, and infuriated residents are demanding the African National Congress (ANC) government deliver on promises made.
President Jacob Zuma told supporters at an election rally this year that South Africa had a good story to tell. Compared to the protests happening on a regular basis around the country, a good story has not developed.
The failing democracy of South Africa continues to strike a chord of dissatisfaction among the people as service deliveries deteriorate at a rapid pace. The maintenance structure and potential new developments to improve the life of all citizens continue to cause a problem for the democracy of the country.
Timing is not considered important as the collapse of service deliveries remain a growing problem. Perhaps nepotism in government departments is one further factor in the rising problem. When maintenance is undertaken, inferior products are used, causing problems to recur. In Johannesburg, several decent areas have turned into slum areas over the last ten years, aggravating the problems of poverty and disease and the major task of supplying the growing populace with sufficient water.
The electricity, water, roads, hospitals and other vital essential infrastructure problems that South Africa faces continues to degrade the standard of living for most people there. Service delivery protests are not a new problem, but a consistent and rising dilemma that is causing living conditions to deteriorate. People are annoyed, and the recent water crisis in South Africa is not a joke, but a serious indication that signals the failing democracy. The high demand for water rises annually, while the supply and demand structure remains disordered.
Opinion by Laura Oneale
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